Williams fires 65 to take Junior PGA lead
FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Turn J.B. Williams loose on a Jack Nicklaus track and good things are bound to happen. The Danville, Ky., native shot 65 on Tuesday in the opening round of the Junior PGA Championship, tearing up Sycamore Hills Golf Club with eight birdies and only one bogey.
Williams returned that round from one of the very last groups on the boys’ side of the tee sheet. Jim Liu, Golfweek’s top-ranked junior, and Cameron Champ already were in the clubhouse with scores of 67. After a two-hour rain delay Tuesday morning, Sycamore Hills’ greens were receptive. Williams took advantage of a setup he said he liked before it ever became soggy.
“I typically like Jack Nicklaus courses, and this one fits my sights,” he said. “It’s hitting second shots here. There’s a lot of risk-reward on the par 5s. I like that.”
Williams took the first-round lead at one of the premier junior events of the summer less than 24 hours after accepting an offer to play at the University of Akron beginning in the fall of 2013. There’s a word that best explains that decision: Firestone. Williams can’t wait to be turned loose on that playground.
“If somebody says come play here, then I’ll definitely take Firestone as an option,” he said.
Tuesday’s 65 is Williams’ best score in a tournament, and one shot off his personal best – a 64 he shot at his home course of Danville Country Club.
“I was most comfortable striking the ball today,” he said. “I had a lot of birdie looks on the front nine and I didn’t roll them all in, but I kept my confidence and kept hitting great shots and it turned into rolling in putts.”
Qualifying for the Junior PGA Championship had been one of his goals for the summer, and he won the Kentucky PGA sectional qualifier with rounds of 68-73 to do it.
“I worked on my game hard to get here,” he said.
A few hours behind Williams, Casie Cathrea and Ariya Jutanugarn were still on the course against a setting sun – doing some grinding of their own. It was reminiscent of their showdown at the U.S. Girls’ Junior two weeks ago, but this time there were 54 more holes to play.
Cathrea, who lost that quarterfinal match against Jutanugarn, turned in 5-under 31 after birdies at Nos. 1 and 2 to open, then 5, 6, and 8. The wheels came off on the back side just as Jutanugarn got her game right. She attributes part of it to her mental game and part of it, perhaps, to mis-clubbing. Regardless, bogeys at Nos. 15 and 18 and a double at No. 16 followed for Cathrea. She finished with a 2-under 70.
“I still have three days,” she said.
Jutanugarn, meanwhile, watched her 3- and 5-wood behave better after the turn than they had all day. She had struggled on the front side, but closed with three birdies to get to 66. This week is a familiar story for Jutanugarn, who is working on a title defense. That the course sets up well for her game makes that even sweeter.
“I love this course, not because I won last year but because the course is so good and everything here is perfect,” she said.
Samantha Wagner shot 67 and Megan Khang shot 68 to fill the gap between Jutanugarn and Cathrea. After taking an immediate lead –and after winning yet another tournament last week, the Canadian Women’s Amateur – Jutanugarn was beaming Tuesday evening. And, as usual, she was not thinking about anything but the round behind her.
“I’m really confident with my everything. Sometimes I play not very good, but I believe I can do it.”